In Sam Chanse’s 2017 one-act, romantic partners and ardent social critics Mel and Arjun attempt to escape the world—at least for one night—in Joshua Tree National Park. Arjun, a professor of ethnic studies, fears an ill-advised tweet about campus racism may end his career at USC. Mel, already n midcareer meltdown, has retreated from her abuse-filled stint as a lightning-rod “hot shit blogger” to write an experimental novel no one’s likely to read. It seems the overweening twitterverse, where everyone is righteously aggrieved for a few minutes, has turned the sort of sustained analysis Mel and Arjun favor into a quaint fossil.
Problem is, they’ve set up camp in a metaphor for their own lives, as roving, tightly wound Youth Conservation Corps member Georgia makes abundantly clear through a series of overdetermined encounters. The Joshua tree, like nuanced civil discourse, is on the verge of extinction. So, indeed, is everything, as the earth is four million years overdue for its next extinction cycle. The question becomes: facing imminent(ish) doom, how does one engage meaningfully with the world?
Chanse doesn’t suggest answers so much as reiillustrate the question through additional unnecessary metaphors, resulting in more philosophical musings than drama. Director Jen Poulin’s hesitant Broken Nose production struggled to find its rhythms on opening night, partly because an understudy performed with script in hand. Only Echaka Agba as Mel delivered a performance with nuance and depth, as she routinely does.